Presented on Thursday, May 3, 2007 in the Barn at Quarry Farm. "The War-Prayer," a satire by Mark Twain on a nation's invoking religion as it goes off to war, was written 102 years ago - but, sadly, it's as fresh as the morning paper today. First published in 1923, "The War-Prayer" remains among the least-well-known works by Twain as far as the general public is concerned. Indeed, educated individuals are often startled and shocked when they are introduced by this piece, dumbfounded as to why they never encountered it before.
This talk will revisit the historical moment in which "The War=Prayer" was written, and will probe the significance of the ways in which Twain refined his text in his revisions and corrections of the manuscript. It will explore the ways "The War-Prayer" lays down the tracks for so much anti-war writing produced by American authors in the century after Twain wrote it. And it will encourage the audience to ponder this question: how might American history in the 20th and 21st centuries have been different if "The War-Prayer" had been as familiar to every high school student as Tom Sawyer?
Dr. Shelley Fisher Fishkin is the Joseph S. Atha Professor of Humanities and Professor of English at Stanford University, as well as the Director of Stanford's American Studies Program. Dr. Fishkin is the author, editor or co-editor of forty-six books and has published one hundred fifty articles, essays, columns, and reviews. Her most recent work is Writing America: Literary Landmarks from Walden Pond to Wounded Knee (2015). She is also the author of From Fact to Fiction: Journalism and Imaginative Writing in America (1985); Was Huck Black? Mark Twain and African-American Voices (1993); and Lighting Out for the Territory: Reflections on Mark Twain and American Culture (1997). She is the editor of the 29-volume Oxford Mark Twain (1996); the Oxford Historical Guide to Mark Twain (2002); "Is He Dead":A New Comedy by Mark Twain (2003), Mark Twain's Book of Animals (2009) and The Mark Twain Anthology: Great Writers on his Life and Work (2010).